When it comes to selling solar, the biggest challenge for many dealers is turning solar considerers into customers and closing the sale. This isn’t just one simple step: a good solar dealer understands that this is a process, and will help the customer move through each step of the buyer’s journey from solar awareness to consideration to adoption, serving as a trusted resource and solar educator.
NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, through SEEDS, Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies, recently did a study on "How to Get Those Considering Solar to Ultimately Make the Switch" to “understand the key drivers and barriers of consumer adoption of rooftop solar.” One of their biggest findings was that customers “must be sold on solar before they’re sold on different options.” Although the solar industry is growing rapidly, many people are still unfamiliar with the solar basics, and have many misconceptions about cost, the suitability of their homes, or the ultimate benefits of going solar. As they move further down the sales funnel and begin considering solar as a viable option for their homes, concerns arise around money, the installation process, and getting buy-in from all members of the household.
This means that familiarity with solar—from technology to racking options to financial considerations—is key. The customer needs to be comfortable with solar as a concept before they’ll be able to truly consider solar as a solution for their own home. And although it might seem counterintuitive, this means that competition from other dealer/installers can actually be good for your business, since having more installations in your area (regardless of who installed them, and what the specifics of the technology are) “will likely increase familiarity with solar and lower barriers for consideration.” Among the individuals surveyed, those who ultimately purchased a solar system were more likely to have heard people they knew talking about solar and more likely to have seen solar on other people’s homes during their consideration processes.
The other key point to take away from this information is that most solar considerers could still, eventually, become adopters, if they learn more about solar, become more familiar with the technology, and have someone alleviate their concerns with practical advice. The study found that very few people write off solar altogether after considering it; 85% of considerers are still potential customers, with 61% classified as “still considering [solar] or undecided” and 24% having “decided but haven’t signed.” The barriers preventing these customers from taking the plunge were generally related to late-rising issues or concerns, most often related to finding a quality installer, coming up with the money, or not being sure whether the home was suitable for solar. Among those who were not currently considering solar (11%), 40% had considered solar seriously—meaning that the door is still open for revisiting these customers down the line when they’ve had time to self-educate and overcome some of the obstacles they might be facing.
The study also found that solar considerers and solar adopters are very similar, rating very closely on demographics such as political stance, education level, and financial status. This is important because it indicates that there isn’t one specific set of qualities that can identify an adopter over a considerer—they’re generally coming from the same demographic groups, with only a few key differentiators.
One of these is in the motivations and concerns for both groups. Considerers and adopters ranked closely on many of the same issues; for example, there was no significant difference in terms of environmental motivations. However, there were a few key areas where motivations and concerns diverged significantly. The study found that considerers tended to be most motivated by getting a return on investment, adding to their home’s market value, and making their home more attractive; and were most concerned about taking on debt or signing a lease and having to perform regular maintenance on the system. Considerers were 43% more likely to report a good return on investment as very important than adopters. Adopters, on the other hand, were more focused on lowering total electricity costs and protecting themselves from rising electricity prices in the future.
The biggest differences the study identified were in financial resources, with considerers having more financial difficulties across the board, as well as lower incomes. Adopters had a much easier time “coming up with the money to go solar.” On every measure of financial consideration, considerers had much higher levels of concern, including convincing the entire household on the merits of solar, finding a trustworthy installer, permitting issues, and the suitability of their home for solar. Considerers were 31% more likely to have a household income below $100,000 annually, and 8% less likely to report having a comfortable financial situation.
This paints a picture of two groups that, while similar, need to be sold on different solar benefits and practical considerations. The less familiar a potential customer is with solar, or the higher up the sales funnel they are, the more basic their concerns will be, so it’s important to be able to adjust your pitch depending on where the customer is in the purchasing process.
The study also mentions the “diffusion of innovation” theory, which is very common in the tech industry, and also applies to the solar industry, which is still somewhat new and untested in the eyes of consumers. Essentially, the early adopters of a given technology or product are often trendsetters in their areas and are usually less risk-averse, while later adopters are more driven by practicality and need more proof of the benefits. The early adopters are more focused on technology and performance, while the later adopters want solutions and convenience. While, again, they’re still generally coming from the same demographic groups and these differences are small, they’re still significant.
So what does this mean for the dealer/installer? The key takeaway is that the decision to purchase solar can be a lengthy, drawn-out one—and you shouldn’t discount any potential customers, as those who consider solar still have great chances of turning into adopters down the line. Positioning yourself as a solar advisor, not just a salesperson, will go a long way in terms of helping your potential customers learn more about solar and become more comfortable with the concept, both on a large scale and as it might relate to their own homes and properties. The study also makes it clear that there is a large opportunity among your old leads—it would be wise to revisit them with a check-in phone call or email every few months, to help them reassess and provide any new information that might help them make their decision. Even if a considerer isn’t ready to make the decision yet, if they trust you and view you as a reliable resource, they’re more likely to return to you when they are ready to move forward with their solar purchase.